Mar 28, 2017

A Summer of Decisions

The outside world is awakening.  Warm breezes blow through my hair, rustle my face.  The green grass presses against my bare feet, and tender flowers open their sleepy eyes.  Buds begin to appear on the trees as little spots of pink and green.  We fold away jackets, one thought in mind.

Summer is almost here.



Warmth, sunshine, free time.  The list goes on and on.  Running, skipping, catching fireflies in the twilight sun.  For many of us, summer brings a time of rest, a time to wind down and enjoy life.

But for me, summer brings a lot of decisions.  A lot of questions.  Like I expressed in my last post, I want my life to make a difference.  I want to live a fulfilling, God-honoring, history-changing life.  I want to be part of a revolution - or a revival - bigger than myself.  I want us, as a body of believers, to change the world.

Those thoughts have especially been on my mind during these short months before summer break arrives in full array.  When May begins, we will have nearly four months away from textbooks, away from the busyness of school.  Four months.  That represents 1/3 of our year.

This brings up a deeper question for me.  If I have all this spare time how will I make use of it?  I think back over past summers.  Images of swimming, gardening, picking berries, taking fun summer classes, and roaming through the creek come to mind.  Such fun times they were.  Such wonderful memories.  But what about this summer?

I already have a long list of possibilities.  So many opportunities arise, begging for my attention.  But they come with a choice.  Either I could spend my time doing this... or that.  I could take a class... or I could focus more directly on my writing.  I could go to a summer camp... or I could stay home, focus on my relationship with God, and spend time with my family.  The possibilities are endless!  The problem is... I can't do everything.

Ultimately, I have been wanting to seek God's will in these decisions.  I have waited... listened... hoping He would speak clearly to me.  I wish He would make it clear and easy to understand.  I wish He would just say, "Hosanna, spend your summer doing ____."  This decision making is so confusing!  God wants us to spend our time honoring Him, right?  Doesn't He want us to make the best decisions?  Then why is He so quiet sometimes?

I'm sure you can relate.  We all face decisions in life, some big some small.  Life is full of them!  But what are we supposed to do when we face one of those bigger decisions, and God doesn't seem to be speaking "loud enough"?

Recently, I have been stuck in Proverbs 16.  I'm trying to read through the Old Testament, but it's hard when one chapter speaks to you over and over again.  I have had to spend day after day re-reading it.  Several verses stood out to me that related to this area of decision making.  I encourage you to read the chapter in its entirety, but here are some highlights that I took note of.

(these verses are from the Amplified Bible...I don't typically read this version, but I was trying to make sense of the verses from a different perspective.  Feel free to read in whichever version you prefer)  =)
The plans and reflections of the heart belong to man, but the [wise] answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are clean and innocent in his own eyes [and he may see nothing wrong with his actions], but the Lord weighs and examines the motives and intents [of the heart and knows the truth].  Commit your works to the Lord [submit and trust them to Him], and your plans will succeed [if you respond to His will and guidance]. -Proverbs 16:1-3
A man’s mind plans his way [as he journeys through life], but the Lord directs his steps and establishes them. -Proverbs 16:9
There is a way which seems right to a man and appears straight before him, but its end is the way of death. -Proverbs 16:25
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. -Proverbs 16:33
I have been chewing on these verses for a few days.  Please read over them for yourself and ask God what He wants you to see.  The thoughts below are my interpretation... but I would love to hear if you sensed a different meaning to those passages.  (and the complete chapter)

First, I want to share a thought I had.  Picture a young mother raising her children.  Her love for them is obvious, and she wants them to grow up into responsible, wise adults.  While they are yet toddlers, she has to teach them exactly what to do.  Hold the spoon like this.  Clean up your messes. Don't have an attitude when I say "no".  Stay by my side when we're outside.  Don't run into the street.  She makes their decisions for them.

As the children grow older, the mother grants them more freedom.  She still has to correct them. Finish your math, please.  No, you can't go over there alone.  However, the mother doesn't have to monitor them as closely.  She lets them begin to make their own decisions.  Why?  The parent understands that her children have more wisdom.  They still fall short quite often, but they now can face decisions and carefully weigh their actions.  The mother doesn't need to force them to obey her or to do wise things.  She desires for them to obey because they love her and to live wisely because they know that's the right thing to do.

Recently, I have been wondering if perhaps God treats us in a similar way.  Does He  remain silent at times to see if we can make decisions in a wise, honoring manner?  Does He want to see our inmost heart, to make sure that we are carefully weighing our steps according to His will?  If God seems to be distant or speaking too quietly, is there a possibility that this is a testing to determine how tuned our hearts are to His?

Proverbs says that "a man's mind plans his way" and "the plans and reflections of the heart belong to man."  But it also concludes that, "the Lord directs his steps and establishes them" and "the answer of the tongue is from the Lord."

What I'm wondering is what is our position in this decision making process?  Are we always to sit back and wait quietly for the Lord to speak?  Does God sometimes want us to step up, evaluate our motives, make wise decisions based off the Bible and our knowledge of Him, and finally commit out decisions to the Lord?

I used to think that decision making was 100% up to God.  I would pray about them, of course, but I would wait for God to give me a clear, very obvious answer.  Yet is it also true that sometimes God remains quiet so that we are forced to really examine our lives and decisions?

This idea is new to me, and I'm not completely sure if I'm wrong or right.  I think there's a delicate balance.  We want to wait on God, but we cannot become lazy assuming that our job is to merely sit back and listen.  Sometimes we need to take the first step, examine our motives and intents, but not rush ahead of God's leading.

So what about you?  What decisions are you facing?  Have you sat down and examined them in light of God's Word?  What are your reasons for wanting to do a particular thing?  Is it pride, selfishness, or truly a desire to make God known?

This summer we have an opportunity to make a difference.  As we focus on abiding in Christ, what will out choices be?  Let's focus on examining our opportunities in light of God's Word, making sure our own intents are pure, and submitting them to Him for His final approval.

Are you experiencing a time of decision making?  What do you think our role is in this process?  And why do you think God remains silent at times?  Comment below!

Mar 21, 2017

A Century Forgotten




As I write/edit the third draft of my historical-fiction novel, Emblem of Hope, I often think of people who lived life before us.  Now only names remain; the past is forgotten.  I look at gravestones, embedded with the names of those who have already left this earth.  Names and dates... is that all that makes up a life?  Did those people have desires, hope, and fear?  Did they love someone?  Did they face trials as big as mountains?  Did they seek after their dreams, achieving the impossible?  Did they live fulfilled lives, investing in others and seeking after Christ?  Or were their years on earth full of bitterness, sorrow, and pain?

So many questions without an answer.  So many people gone forever; their stories vanished with them.  Our history books contain thousands of names and events.  (don't we know... we have to memorize them!)  But what about the common people?  Those who made a splash in history that wasn't quite "big" or "important enough" to record?  What about them?

It fills me with longing.  A desire to know.  That's what being a historical-fiction writer is.  The unanswerable questions give me a yearning to fill in the holes with my imagination, stories being spun through my fingers.

But it gives me another thought.  Something more personal.

What about me?

In one hundred years, what will people remember about me?  Will my name be lost forever like a drop of water in the ocean?  Will I be but one name on a tombstone among many others?  Will people walk past and wonder who "Hosanna" was?

But as a follower of Christ, those questions aren't relevant.  "Me" isn't important.  As John the Baptist said, 
"He must increase, but I must decrease." - John 3:30
My life shouldn't be about recognition.  It's not about promoting me.  It's about promoting Christ.  But even so, I want my life to make a difference.  Maybe no one will remember me in one hundred years.  That's okay.  I won't be here on earth anyway.  But is it wrong to want to make an impact in history?  To be part of something grand, something spectacular that allows others to see Christ?

I guess this is what I'm trying to say:  I want my life to make a difference.  I want the things I do today to matter in the light of eternity.  One hundred years from now, what will matter?   What things am I doing today that truly matter?

Here are some questions to ponder.  One hundred years from now, will it matter that...

  • I read this book?
  • I watched this movie?
  • I played this game?
  • I said these words?
  • I wrote this book (or story or poem)?
  • I participated in this activity?
  • I got a new follower?
  • I was friends with this person?
  • I had this conversation?
  • I owned this possession?
  • I bought this object?
  • I ate this meal?

The list could go on and on.  (be thankful I stopped there!)

But think about it.  Really think about it.  What things (even "productive" things) are you doing that are completely useless?  Are we truly wasting hours of our time and hundreds of our dollars on meaningless endeavors?

Was buying that object truly important?  Did spending an hour reading that book change anyone's life?  Are my conversations making a difference?

It became more personal to me after something that happened today.  I have a special bracelet that my daddy and brother bought for me while they were in Ecuador on a mission's trip more than eight years ago.  It was lovely, but today that bracelet broke.  I a long time fiddling with it, trying to fix it.  After almost an hour with no success, I got a random thought.

This is a bracelet.  It consists of a handful of beans, seeds, and string.  Is it really worth my time to fix this trivial object that is special to me?  Could simply throwing it away grant me more time that could be used in a better way?

Yes, that might be a silly example, but it's a struggle.  Little things add up.  A little money here and there can cost you more than you think.  A little time wasted can grow into a mountain of to-do's.

One hundred years from now.  One century, yet such a long time.  What things really matter?  And if something doesn't matter, why are we doing/saying/buying it?  Why am I doing it?

Let's examine our lives together.  What if one hundred years from now, the world was still seeing the ripple we made in history?  What if the history books one day record that in the 21st century something strange happened, something radical?  What if Christians actually stood up for their faith, gave God the glory, and lived for Him alone?

Let's live in such a way that one hundred years from now our lives will have made an impact.

Examine your own life; are you spending precious time, money, or energy to do something that will ultimately not matter?  How can you and I make practical changes to ensure that our lives are giving Jesus glory?  Comment below!

Mar 14, 2017

Necessary Ingredients

We have visitors over as I prepare this post, so I hope you don't mind if I throw an older post I wrote back in...October, I believe.  =)  I wrote this after my family met for our home church gathering.  We read 2 Peter 1 together as a family, and I created this post to summarize it and organize my thoughts...as a writer, it helps me think clearer.  I hope you find it convicting in your own life.  =)




A few months ago, we were having some guests over to our house.  Mom had prepared a lovely meal, but there was still one item missing: bread.  My 9-year-old sister began to gather the ingredients.  After throwing them together, the dough was ready to bake.  Later, as we took the bread out, we were astonished to see that the bread was flat.  Something was most definitely missing.  The bread was coarse and dense, unlike the normal fluffy goodness that we normally get to enjoy.  It turned out that a little teaspoon of salt really did make a huge difference.  Thankfully, our guests are more like family, and they didn't mind at all.  =)  However, it did teach us an important lesson; every ingredient is needed and necessary for a perfect recipe.

In 2 Peter 1:5-9, Peter lists the "ingredients" that are vital for living the Christian life.  He writes, 
"But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.  For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."  2 Peter 1:5-9
So often it seems as if we are living the Christian life in our own strength.  We fail, fall short, run out of breath, and overall feel discouraged.  Perhaps those "dry" seasons come from a lack of an important ingredient in our life.  If this is even a possibility, shouldn't we be diligent to examine our lives and seeking out any weak spots?  Any possible vulnerabilities?

Let's jump into this list a bit more in depth.

Ingredient #1:  FAITH

Faith is the most basic aspect of salvation.  Without it, we wouldn't even think of calling ourselves a Christian.  The Noah Webster 1828 dictionary (which I will reference to throughout this post) has several different explanations of what faith is.  "The assent of the mind or understanding to the truth of what God has revealed...In other words, that firm belief of God's testimony, and of the truth of the gospel, which influences the will, and leads to an entire reliance on Christ for salvation."

Faith = belief.  It is believing that God is Who He says He is.  It is believing that He has total control over the world and your own life.  This is step one towards having a fruitful life.

But as James says, "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!"  Faith is not the only aspect needed to live a God-honoring life.

Ingredient #2:  VIRTUE

After someone has a simple belief in Christ, she needs to take the next step – to live their life based off that belief.  Faith without actions is useless. The book of James gives an example of this...

"If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." James 2:15-17

Virtue is making the right choices.  It is "the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice."   Virtue is living the way we know we are supposed to live and following God's Word even when it's hard.

Ingredient #3: KNOWLEDGE

Knowledge and wisdom are two very separate terms, which made me curious to examine this word deeper.  Wisdom basically means "the right use or exercise of knowledge."  It is the ability to consider the circumstances and understand what the right thing to do is.  On the other hand, knowledge is more like book learning.  For instance, we take classes and read book to learn  knowledge.  How does this relate to the Christian life?

When we have faith and virtue, we need to strengthen ourselves with knowledge from the Bible.  In this verse, knowledge is referring to reading, memorizing, and learning what the Bible says.  How can we have a fruitful life without knowing what the purpose of our life is?  And how can we know what the purpose of our life is without reading the Book that we are basing out life off of?

Ingredient #4: SELF-CONTROL

When we got to this quality, the first suggestion of the meaning was obviously "controlling self."  ;)  But what does "controlling self" really mean?

While I don't have an exact definition, I think the basic meaning is to be disciplined.  Like virtue, having self-control is the ability to keep yourself from doing wrong and doing what you know to be right.  It is taking your convictions a step forward to act upon them.  Remember, "faith without works is dead."

Ingredient #5: PERSEVERANCE

Perseverance is to "not to give over or abandon what is undertaken."  If we were devoted believers but lacked perseverance, where would we be?  Perhaps we would obey for a little while...but soon we would give up and turn back to our old ways.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus taught about different people and their reactions to the Gospel, comparing them to seeds thrown on the soil.  One example tells how the seeds sprang up quickly but lacked a good foundation to keep themselves secure.  Because of this they soon fell away, scorched in the sun.

Let us not be that person.  We need to remain faithful and true.  Perseverance is trusting God even when we don't see Him.  It is running after Him in the dark, knowing that one day the light will come, and we will see Him clearly.  It is being willing to die for our faith, looking forward to the day when we will live forever in harmony in our heavenly home.

Ingredient #6: GODLINESS

If we truly understand Who God is, then we should strive to live lives that reflect His glory.  Godliness is living as God would want us to live.  (we understand how He wants us to live by studying the Bible – knowledge)  It is loving what God loves and hating what God hates.  It is having a holy conduct.  Godliness is a simple, yet profound concept.  To explain it in a few words, godliness is "Christian obedience."

Ingredient #7: BROTHERLY KINDNESS

This term can be hard to relate to because the term "brothers" is not what it should be.  When you speak of your siblings, it is most often done in contempt and disgust.  This is so far away from what family relationships should be like.  Family should be the closest, tightest, most loving form of relationship imaginable.  This is what the Bible is referring to when it mentions brotherly kindness.

I have a friend who embodies this quality perfectly.  She treats every single person she meets and corresponds with as a priceless, unique individual who deserves her time, love, and attention.  If someone goes through a hard time, she feels it almost as painfully as the person who is going through the trial.  She is overwhelmed with school and busyness, but she always has a spare minute to love on others.

Brotherly kindness is just that.  It is loving others in a selfless way.  It is treating them as a special person that God created in His image.  It is showing hospitality, generosity, and compassion.  We should be willing to give up everything for others  showing brotherly kindness like Christ did for us.

Ingredient #8: LOVE

Love.  Most everyone knows what this term refers to.  1 Corinthians 13 explains the different aspects of love quite nicely, thus I'll not attempt to put this endless definition into words at the moment. =)  But definitely do not leave out this ingredient; it is an essential aspect of the Christian life.

When you look at this ingredient list, what do you see?  Do you see it as just that  a list?  A "do this" and "don't do that" job that you must accomplish in order to live a fruitful life?

Perhaps you could see it as such, however I think it should be so much more.  We should desire these qualities because we want to honor and please God.  If you truly desire to live as a fruitful believer, you should have all these qualities.

But do you?  Do I?  Do we?  Are these ingredients qualities that we exhibit in our everyday lives?  Or are we lacking something essential?

As you and I go back over the list and prayerfully consider if we are living this out as Christ would have us do, let us pray and ask God to grant us what we are lacking.  Let us come before Him and humbly ask that He would build us up in His image.  But let us not stop there – we need to take action!  If we find a weakness in our lives, we need to fortify ourselves  strengthen ourselves  so that we are ready to live in His power.
"His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness..."  2 Peter 1:3
He has equipped us with all things that pertain to life and godliness.  Why wouldn't we claim that power and live as His children in every occasion?

How are you going to take steps to develop a fruitful life?  Do any of these ingredients stand out to you specifically?  Comment below!

Mar 7, 2017

Abiding Fulfillment


Last month I wrote a post listing some of the many Names of God.  Read here.  I ran through many different Names and the verses that referenced them.  But now I want to take one of His Names that I ran into during my Bible reading and explore it a little bit deeper.  I read this yesterday, and I do not have it all figured out...but perhaps by looking at it specifically, we will be able to understand it in a new way together.  =)




John 6:35 reads,
"And Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.'"
Bread of life...what exactly does that mean?  What is this "hunger" and "thirst" referring to?  Is this a physical or spiritual longing?

Earlier in this chapter, there are some notes to take into mind.  John 6:1-15 is about the feeding of the five thousand.  Jesus was on a mountain, surrounded by five thousand hungry, longing men.  (They don't list the number of women and children...were there even more?)  These people had followed Jesus "because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased."  They were seeking Him because of curiosity and amazement.  Perhaps they were seeking healing themselves.

Together on that mountain, Jesus had the entire group sit in the grass.  He took the food they had - a measly five barley loaves and two fish -, gave thanks for the food, and had the disciples distribute the feast.  Miraculously, that little meal ended up satisfying the entire crowd with food to spare.

After these amazing occurrences, Jesus left and went somewhere else.  Of course, the crowds couldn't resist following; they found Him again.  This is when Jesus began talking about "the bread of life."

Jesus told them,
"'Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.'"  - John 6:27
The people were seeking instant satisfaction.  They were desiring food to fill their bellies.  They wanted miracles, amusement, something that would fill the longing deep inside.

Jesus offered something better.
"...My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is... - John 6:32-33
The bread of God is...what?
"For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
Who is "He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world"?  Isn't that Jesus Himself?  Well, that sure makes sense when you remember that Jesus said, "I am the bread of life."  When Jesus offers living water (see Revelation 22:17) or the bread of life, He is offering Himself.

Bread (representing food) is essential to our life.  It is something we cannot live without.  It brings contentment, satisfaction.  When Jesus says that He is the bread of life, perhaps He is saying that He is all this?

Jesus is true contentment.  Jesus is true satisfaction.  Jesus is essential to our life.  We cannot live without Him.

Every single person has a desire inside themselves for something more.  Something that can't get stolen, destroyed, or lost.  They have a longing for something much deeper.  In the same way that food satisfies our appetite, we long for something to satisfy our yearning.  Someone to love, cherish, and appreciate us.  Someone who understands.

If this is what Jesus was meaning to say (I won't pretend to believe I have this all figured out!), that means that we, as Believers living in Christ, should have this fulfillment.  And if we are living fulfilled lives, won't joy, peace, and love be evident as well?

My question to you is this:  If our lives are not exhibiting these qualities, what is wrong?  Are we forgetting to abide in Christ?  Is our relationship with God a saber instead of conocer one?  Do we have idols on the throne of our hearts?

Jesus is the bread of life.  He is the only One who can bring us true satisfaction.  Nothing else (possessions, popularity, achievements, etc.) can bring us that joy.

What about you?  What does your life look like?  Are you feasting on the bread of life or are you grabbing for stale, dirty crumbs?

Don't search for satisfaction apart from the One who can bring it.

Is Jesus our bread of life, and, if not, how can we remove the barriers in our way to allow Him to rule over our hearts?  Does "bread of life" mean something different to you that what I suggested?  Comment below!